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12 Activities to Promote 21st Century Skills in an English Class

Critical Thinking. Communication. Collaboration. Creativity. These four C’s of 21st century skills are vital for success in today’s workforce and you, as an English teacher, can help your students develop these skills right in your English classroom (whether in person or online)! 

The following 12 activities are more suitable for intermediate to advanced English learners, but you can tweak some of them to use in beginner classes as well. Not only will these activities help improve your students’ English skills, but they will also help prepare your students for life beyond the classroom.

Activities to develop CRITICAL THINKING:

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The ability to think critically in a world of false information, fake news and scams can be life saving. Here are three activities to develop your students’ critical thinking skills in your English class: 

1) Present a news article to your students and have them analyze its validity. Then discuss as a class how to verify external information to determine whether it’s true.

Example: Have students read an article that has false information and ask students questions like “How do you determine if this is true?” and “What makes you doubt this article?”

2) Ask open-ended questions and have students share their ideas and opinions. You can ask follow-up questions to get them to think deeper. 

Examples of follow-up questions: “How did you come up with this answer?”, or “How would your opinion be different if you were on the opposing side?”

3) Conduct a class debate on a specific topic. In the first round, students can choose which side they want to defend, but in the second round, they have to defend the opposing side. 

Examples of debate topics: Is college necessary to get a good job? Is social media beneficial to society?

Activities to enhance COMMUNICATION skills:

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Being able to communicate well verbally and in writing is essential in all social and professional relationships. Here are three activities to help your students’ enhance their communication skills in an English class:

1) Have students role-play different scenarios, so they know what to say and how to behave in various settings.

Examples of role-play scenarios: Meeting someone new at a party, ordering food at a restaurant, attending a job interview.

2) Host a public-speaking contest. It could be in the style of a TEDTalk where students present a speech on something they’re passionate about. This activity can also be impromptu, where students choose topics at random and have to present about them on the spot.

Example: Each student can give a 2-3 minute speech about something they love, whether it’s music, sports, traveling or anything. Or they choose a random topic out of a hat and have to talk about it for one minute.

3) Teach students how to write letters and emails (both formal and informal). 

Example: You can show students different letter samples used in different situations and students can practice writing a letter or email to a long-distance friend or relative.

Activities to increase COLLABORATION:

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Being able to work well with others opens up many opportunities in life and helps build strong relationships. Here are three activities to help increase your students’ collaboration skills in an English class:

1) Ask the students to plan an event/trip as a team. They can decide among themselves who’s responsible for what and then decide on a plan that everyone is satisfied with.

Example: Tell your students that they are the planning committee for a concert that will take place in their city. They must plan everything from tickets to food to entertainment and everyone must chip in.

2) Show the students a picture and have them build a story around it.

Example: One student starts with an introductory sentence and the other students can take turns adding a sentence, eventually creating a coherent story that is aligned with the picture. 

3) Present students with different scenarios and ask them what they would do. Each student can share their ideas, then the class has to come to an agreement at the end. 

Example of a scenario: If your team was stranded on a deserted island, what five things would you bring to help your team survive until help comes along? 

Activities to promote CREATIVITY:

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Creativity is a necessary element of problem solving and it opens our minds to new possibilities. It’s what drives society’s advancements and is crucial for long-term success. Here are three activities to promote creativity in your English class: 

1) Train students’ divergent thinking by doing activities that make them “think outside the box.”

Example: Come up with as many uses for an object (e.g. paperclip) as possible. 

2) Have students present a business pitch, Dragon’s Den style. It doesn’t have to be a new product or service, they can also try to “sell” a common object.

Example: Ask students what problems they deal with on a daily basis and what new product could be invented to help them fix that problem. Or ask students to find a common item in their room (like a pen) and then try to “sell” it to the class.

3) Have students explain a more complicated concept in simpler terms. “Explain to me like I’m 5”.

Example: Ask students to choose a concept that 5 year olds normally would not understand and find a creative way to explain it so that 5 year olds can understand. 

All 12 of these activities above will not only give your students plenty of speaking and writing opportunities to practice English, but they will also enhance your students’ 21st century skills in critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. If you found this article helpful, please share it with your fellow teachers! 

Ellier Leng
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